It’s a marathon, not a sprint. At times in the first three months of 2022, the Indianapolis Colts looked like they were headed to the bottom of the AFC instead of rebounding to make another playoff run this fall. But when they signed 2019 Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore to a two-year deal Friday, Indianapolis actually continued a very strange, but good post-season heading into the draft.
The Colts booted Carson Wentz to Washington (for a better second-round draft position and a third-round pick), and it’s now pretty clear why they had to give up on Wentz after one year. His refusal to get vaccinated led to a positive test in Week 17, zero practice time the week of a huge game against the Raiders, and a stale, tired Wentz playing poorly in a 27-24 loss. That was followed by a desultory Wentz performance in a 15-point loss to the worst team in football, Jacksonville, that knocked the Colts out of the playoffs. The Colts slunk back to Indianapolis and immediately retreated to a very dark place, with an owner, Jim Irsay, clearly furious about the collapse—and about his quarterback.
The Colts replaced Wentz with a better player and leader (and with a chip on his shoulder), Matt Ryan. They buttressed a mediocre pass rush with the acquisition of the well-traveled Yannick Ngakoue (9.5 sacks per year, on average, over the last five years). And Gilmore not only gives the Colts a far better option than the young Isaiah Rodgers at one corner against a schedule with Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert, Russell Wilson, Dak Prescott and Derek Carr, but he provides the kind of veteran counsel a young secondary can learn from.
A general manager is often judged by who he drafts, and the high-priced free-agents he imports. But more often, a GM earns his stripes when he faces a crisis and manages his way patiently out of it. Time will tell if Chris Ballard of the Colts can overcome overpaying for Wentz last offseason by the moves he’s made since the disastrous end of the Colts’ season. But so far, the Colts have rebounded steadily from the worst finish to the 2021 season of any NFL team. They’re one of the most improved teams of 2022. Now Ballard’s got to find a receiving weapon in this draft, from a rich pool of wideouts, to help the Colts stay competitive with the explosive offenses of the deep, deep AFC.